The Seafarer's

Egyptian Anfloga
Spring is coming and the ice will break
And I can't linger for a woman's sake

Meaning & Purpose
Form & Faith

Pushing through the darkness,
Still another mile.

Click for Greek Anfloga

"Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original."
E.Bruce Brooks.

His translation maxims are exceptionally good. Get them by heart.

No verse composition has ever been translated more inaccurately, more frequently, than The Seafarer

            This is partly because Anglo-American Anglo-Saxonists have little or nil understanding of Old Scandinavian.           

Jewish Anfloga            

1991; Pagan Words & Xtian Meanings; Richard North
1995; Beowulf: A Student Edition; George Jack
1999; Natural World in OE Poetry; Jennifer Neville
2002; Introduction to English Poetry; James Fenton
2004; Cambridge OE Reader; Richard Marsden
2006; Strange Likeness; Chris Jones
2007; By Hook or by Crook; David Crystal
2007; Beowulf & Other Stories; North & Allard (eds)
2007; God is not Great; Christopher Hitchens
2011; The Word Hoard; Delanty & Matto (eds)

Recent reading, 2013

Excerpt from James Fenton's Introduction to English Poetry, p 1.

"Get yourself prepared for judgement day" reduces the seafarer's message and meaning to six words.


E.Bruce Brooks: What is called literal translation is usually the raw material for a first reading, as assembled by someone who doesn't know the language of the text very well. The process is inevitable and thus pardonable in a beginner. It is not to be enshrined as a model of the finished product which the professional should aim at. Wayne Leman: Word-for-word translation does not necessarily increase [communicative] accuracy. In fact, it often reduces [communicative] accuracy.

Always keep firmly in mind that Anglo-Saxon is NOT "Old English". The language is no more English than Latin is "Old Italian".
A far, far more accurate term would not even be "Anglo-Saxon", but "Old Scandinavian".

Try Wikipedia on this matter: "Proto-Norse (also Proto-Scandinavian, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Ancient Nordic, Old Scandinavian, Proto-North Germanic and North Proto-Germanic) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a northern dialect of Proto-Germanic over the first centuries AD. It is the earliest stage of a characteristically North Germanic language, and the language attested in the oldest Scandinavian Elder Futhark inscriptions, spoken ca. from the 3rd to 7th centuries (corresponding to the late Roman Iron Age and the early Germanic Iron Age). It evolved into the dialects of the Old Norse language at the beginning of the Viking Age.

Old Scandinavian: 3rd to 7th centuries AD. And very obviously also evolved into Anglo-Saxon; 5th to 9th centuries, AD.

Consider the oprindelse, ie the origin or etymology, of the Danish word vrn, a neuter noun, as given in Den Danske Ordbog, a Danish dictionary, see here. This word, virtually identical with what I'm still obliged to call Anglo-Saxon, wearn, derives from: svensk vrn: dannet til en rod med betydningen 'beskytte, dkke'; which translates as: Swedish vrn, formed from a root meaning 'protection, cover'.

Once it has finally filtered through to the Anglo-American Anglo-Saxonist that wearn means 'protection, cover', and that unwearn therefore means 'no protection, no cover', the rest of the poem's meaning follows, as the night the day. It further follows that unwearnum, the dative case of attendant circumstance, strongly implies that the seafarer is in an unprotected state, and in need of cover.

Why does this cause him concern ? Because he is being approached by the anfloga, which is both an oncomiing and, possibly, attacking flier. Either way, it is certainly bringing death. It is the Death Bird. Also it YELLS, which would be exceedingly improbable behaviour in a "returning soul". It yells because it is a banshee, or a valkyrie. This bird, like death itself, is ambiguous: it is playing a dual role. Is death, or is it not, welcome ? What is our destination? This is why the seafarer seeks cover, protection and reassurance. What anfloga does NOT mean is "one-flier".


twa corbies



Because the Anglo-Saxons first spoke, and then wrote, Old Scandinavian
their language is far better understood by Modern Scandinavians than by Modern Anglophones.
Or, for that matter, by Modern Germans.

unwearnum translates into Modern Swedish as värnlös, which means "defenceless".
unwearnum translates into Old Swedish as ovärne, which means "defenceless".
unwearnum translates into Modern Icelandic as óvaran, which means "unaware, unwary".

unwearnum sounds like Modern German "ohne Warnung". Which it doesn't mean.
Nor does it mean "unversehens"; nor does it mean "unwiderstehlich"; ie unforeseen and/or irresistible
unwearnum describes the seafarer, not the anfloga

"Get yourself prepared for judgement day" reduces the seafarer's message and meaning to six words.



This person is composing his work for public, not private, consumption. He intends it for a living audience. He is indeed, as David Howlett has asserted, someone whose composition provides overwhelming evidence that it has "been transmitted from the pen of [a] literate poet without serious corruption." I'd go so far as to say that there is absolutely minimal corruption, in spite of the difficulty around lines 113-115. This man is supremely learned: in my view he is equally at home in Anglo-Saxon and Latin, possibly also Aramaic and Hebrew. He is exceptionally well-read. He is a philosopher, of the calibre of Boethius.

He also has a position, of whatever nature, to maintain. The Roman citizen's brand of Christianity should be thought of as the continuation of his Empire's earlier power, by other means. The thought police consolidate the force police. The new religion was assiduously propelled by the ruling class, not by the oppressed or under-privileged, who were very happy with their gods --- especially their favourite, jolly old Thor, first deity of the Yule solstice, dressed in red, who personified the benign warmth of the returning northern sun, and who boldly defied the giants of merciless authoriity, wintry totalitarianisim and relentless heat.



Click image below to read an inane review by someone semi-literate, advisedly maintaining her/his anonymity:

nitwit 1

Another Jewish headstone, with Anfloga

Picture 15. "This is an eagle spreading its wings over the upper, rounded shape of the headstone, like the dome of the sky, with his head bent forward. This seems to mean God's protection of he who seeks shelter in Him. This symbol, which also appears above Holy Arks, originates in the Bible: He shall cover thee with his feathers and under his wings shalt thou trust. (Psalms. 91:4)."

Comment by Miriam Gumpel. 30.12.1995. Click for website..
Hm. I wonder. Rapture by Raptor, I suppose.


Click image below to read an inane review by someone sadly ill-read, advisedly maintaining his/her anonymity:

nitwit 2


Sectionable into two parts, or three ? Well, in 1975 David Howlett was explicit: "The unit of composition is the verse paragraph, of which ..... The Seafarer [contains] five." Although his analysis was written 40 years ago, I don't think I've looked into it until just now, and am struck by how near, yet how far apart, we come in agreement. "The centre of a poem 124 lines long lies between lines 62 and 63." I would say that the poem is 125 lines long, and its exact centre is actually line 63, namely hwete onwl weg | hreer unwearnum. Whets for the death-road the defenceless wraith. "Whets" implies "prepares for". The whale's way is the road of death --- for the seafarer of that day and age. The poet was much more of a playful punster than has fully been appreciated. However, Howlett's discernment of the seafarer's message is virtually the same as mine: it's in the linguistic details that we differ.

Howlett says, and rightly, that "The argument of the entire poem is compressed into" lines 58-63. [En passant, why not 58-68 ? No matter, never mind.] What is of greater interest is that by 1997, when he published British Books in Biblical Style, he omitted any discussion of The Seafarer, although he retained an extended analysis of The Wanderer. Perhaps something had caused him to change his perception of The Seafarer, after 1975, but before 1997. I really can't help wondering if he had been glancing at Studia Neophilologica.


What does the poet himself believe ? Well, he has certainly felt it politic to employ the God hypothesis. cf Hitchens, GING, 2007, pp 66-67. The magisterial usefulness of the opiate of the masses comes to mind.
He subscribes to hierarchical authority, but is alert to natural injustice and the undeserving prosperity of sinners. To what base uses we may return: aye, there's the thought that offers consolation.

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

The seafarer poet was not an idiot. So his philosophy is timeless.

He well knew that the only certainty was that a hreer on its wl weg would return to the sceatas from which it had once emerged.
Those who called the inexplicable Prime Cause of Life and Death by the name of God, or Home, were welcome to do so.


Two more rendings, and I mean rendings, of The Seafarer's central crux.

Sudden my soul starts from her prison-house,
Soareth afar o'er the sounding main;
Hovers on high, o'er the home of the whale;
Back to me darts the bird-sprite and beckons,
Winging her way o'er woodland and plain,
Hungry to roam, and bring me where glisten
Glorious tracts of glimmering foam.
[50 words]
Anglo-Saxon text [35 words]


And yet my heart wanders away,
My soul roams with the sea, the whales'
Home, wandering to the widest corners
Of the world, returning ravenous with desire,
Flying solitary, screaming, exciting me
To the open ocean, breaking oaths
On the curve of a wave.
[44 words]
Anglo-Saxon text [35 words]

Mash-ups C and D are distinguished for badness.

D might have been better than C, were it not for a number of barmily eccentric word insertions. Foron nu cannot mean "sudden", but "and yet" is not bad.. Where, however, does D get his roaming "soul" from ? Hyge simply does not mean "soul", although very many translators are obsessed with this shiningly specious gloss. Neither does this phony chimera "return" or "dart back". What on earth does D mean by "breaking oaths"? Is this some weird misprint ?

Enormous liberties are taken in these, and almost all other translations, but these two are exceptionally cavalier.
95% of these traducers lack basic integrity, as well as simply being culturally stunted.
An earlier version of this page had mis-copied widest as wildest. Both adjectives are in any case equally otiose and misleading. Dead wrong.

In A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste, March 1913, Pound advises: "Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it." Decency ? Ezra Pound ?

Origin of EFTSOONS
Middle English eftsones, alteration of Old English eftsona, from Old English eft after + sona soon;
akin to Old English fter after
First Known Use: before 12th century

The Swedish word efter means "after"; not "returning" or "darting back".

"I have been obliged to content myself through life with saying what I mean in the plainest of plain language, than which, I suppose, there is no habit more ruinous to a man's prospects of advancement." T.H.Huxley, Autobiography, p 1, Lectures & Essays, Watts, published 1931.

Click here again for the Gumpel collection


commentaries: one, two, three [more than 60 other versions], four, five, six
annotation       essays & papers       main general index

Cambridge Old English Reader
Pound Note Four
Seafarer Fidelity: and Veracity
Seafarer Birds
more on unwearnum
prehistoric pursuit of the anfloga
Howlett on Structure
Another Page
Site Version


"The greater the labour, the fewer the people who understand and appreciate it". Paul Valry, 1871 - 1945.

a group of whoopers worried they could be skewered

© Charles Harrison-Wallace, 2014